Blurred lines: how does cross-disciplinary research work in practice
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Loughborough University Institutional Repository Blurred lines: how does cross-disciplinary research work in practice This item was submitted to Loughborough University's Institutional Repository by the/an author. Citation: MALLABAND, R.A.L. and HAINES, V., 2014. Blurred lines: how does cross-disciplinary research work in practice. UbiComp `14 Adjunct Pro- ceedings of the 2014 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing: Adjunct Publication, September 13th-17th 2014, Seat- tle, WA, USA, pp.963-970. Additional Information: • c 2014 ACM. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of ACM for your personal use. Not for redistribution. The denitive version was published at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2638728.2641550 Metadata Record: https://dspace.lboro.ac.uk/2134/18456 Version: Accepted for publication Publisher: c ACM Please cite the published version.
Blurred Lines: How Does Cross- Disciplinary Research Work In Practice Abstract This paper describes how cross-disciplinary research Becky Mallaband works in practice, illustrated through examples and Loughborough Design School experience from two large cross-disciplinary domestic Loughborough University energy research projects. The paper discusses the Loughborough, Leicestershire challenges of working across disciplines in this context LE11 3TU, UK and suggests a framework which helps to bridge the email@example.com gap between technology developers or engineers and householders. Victoria Haines Loughborough Design School Author Keywords Loughborough University Cross-disciplinary; User Centred Design; Domestic Loughborough, Leicestershire energy demand reduction LE11 3TU, UK firstname.lastname@example.org ACM Classification Keywords C.4 [Performance of systems]: Design Studies D.2 [Software engineering]: Design tools and techniques, User interfaces H.1.2 [User/machine systems]: Human factors Permission to make digital or hard copies of all or part of this work for H.5.2 [Information interfaces and presentation]: User personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that Interface--- Ergonomics, User-centred design, Theory copies bear this notice and the full citation on the first page. Copyrights and methods, evaluation/methodology for components of this work owned by others than the author(s) must be General terms: Design, Human Factors honored. Abstracting with credit is permitted. To copy otherwise, or republish, to post on servers or to redistribute to lists, requires prior specific permission and/or a fee. Request permissions from Introduction Permissions@acm.org. Historically, there have been distinct boundaries UbiComp '14, September 13 - 17 2014, Seattle, WA, USA between academic subject areas and even specialities Copyright is held by the owner/author(s). Publication rights licensed to within those subject areas. However, more recently it ACM. ACM 978-1-4503-3047-3/14/09…$15.00. has been acknowledged that for work in complex areas http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2638728.2641550 to be most effective, research between and across disciplines is necessary  and recent funding calls
have reflected this need for cross-disciplinary working the DEFACTO project (October 2012 - October 2017) . This blurring of the lines between disciplines also funded by the RCUK’s Energy Programme. provides new perspectives to big research challenges, such as the reduction in energy demand [3,4], The CALEBRE project aimed to establish a particularly in domestic properties, however, this comprehensive refurbishment package for reducing collaboration can also result in more challenging domestic carbon levels that was specifically acceptable working relationships . and appealing to householders and through this central focus on users, brought together technology The specific challenges associated with cross- developers, User Centred Design (UCD) experts and disciplinary working, combined with the documented specialists from other disciplines. Through the challenges of working within the home [6,7], present successful completion of the CALEBRE project, many further complexities. By considering the home as a lessons were learnt in relation to cross-disciplinary holistic system, the tension of exploring an engineering working. Some of these have since been applied within solution within a social environment must be managed. DEFACTO, another cross-disciplinary project involving This can raise interesting questions of how engineering engineers & UCD experts, which aims to investigate problems are researched, when those with the how the use of digital control and feedback expertise to do so may not have the appropriate social technologies in the home enable reduction and research skills. Carrying out research within the home management of heating energy use. requires an interface with the lives of participants. Disruption to daily life should be minimal, whilst still Whilst the multi-disciplinary work conducted on the enabling the collection of useful data. This requires CALEBRE project was effective and resulted in maintaining a balance between meeting the significant advances in understanding (demonstrated by engineering and monitoring needs of a research project a range of published multidisciplinary papers [e.g. 8, 9, whilst keeping the householders happy and disturbance 10]), the DEFACTO project seeks a greater level of to a minimum. In addition, there are particular integration and collaboration in order for researchers to challenges when designing innovative or future work together to investigate the research questions technologies for the home, where user wants and needs with a shared methodological approach . relating to specific technological solutions must be gathered. This paper focuses on the cross-disciplinary Methods role which bridges this gap between the technology The CALEBRE project included a householder study developer and the householder. conducted in the home, to provide information for the user centred design experts and the technology The research developers. It became clear that there were specific This paper draws upon the work of the CALEBRE project challenges with this type of collaboration and therefore (October 2008 - April 2013), funded by the Research certain skills and activities were identified which could Councils UK (RCUK) Energy Programme and E.ON, and help to build bridges between the disciplines. To
explore these further, semi-structured interviews with managed by the UCD experts who had good social and three UCD practitioners and four engineers were used communication skills  and who were able to liaise to investigate past experience of academic researchers across disciplines , effectively building bridges. The working on cross-disciplinary research across framework developed (see Figure 1) sets out four ways engineering and UCD domains. This particularly related in which the UCD expert intermediates between the end to research in the home, to see if the experiences of user (or householder) and technology developer at researchers on the CALEBRE project were typical. different stages through the project: the UCD expert Questions focused on any issues researchers had relates, the UCD expert specialises, the UCD expert experienced as well as ways they had found which builds knowledge, the UCD expert translates. improved working with those from other disciplines. All participants had more than 10 years’ experience in In order to demonstrate this process and illustrate the their area of expertise, had participated in cross- stages, the physical act of building a bridge has been disciplinary research projects and had commercial or used. This is intended to help those involved in cross- consultancy experience, which ensured they had a disciplinary working, particularly when relating to the broad range of collaboration experiences to draw upon. home, to visualise and understand the different stages All participants had experience as a principal or co- which need to occur in order to develop strong and investigator of a research project, meaning that they effective working relationships and valuable had an overview of a collaborative research project in collaborative results. addition to their own cross-disciplinary research experience. The information gathered from these Stage one: The UCD expert relates interviews, along with evidence from the CALEBRE The first stage in the process of building a bridge project, enabled reflection on the nature of cross- between the householder and the technology developer disciplinary research and role of the UCD expert, which begins with laying foundations on both sides. This is a led to the conceptualisation of four key stages to relational foundation, enabling the building of trust and support cross-disciplinary working. In addition, six rapport. This is done through communication and principles for effective cross-disciplinary working were contact with both the householders and the technology identified and then evaluated using an online survey developers, predominantly through face to face with 52 academic respondents. Both the stages in meetings, but also through emails and other remote Figure 1: Bridge building stages cross-disciplinary working and the finalised principles forms of contact. This builds an understanding of the  ©Becky Mallaband are presented in this paper. householders’ or technology developer’s point of view, priorities and level of understanding, which further Learnings from the CALEBRE project enhances communication. As already mentioned, monitoring energy use within the home has particular challenges due to the use of an Failure to complete this stage successfully or a engineering approach within a social environment. breakdown in relational foundations can prove Through the CALEBRE project, this tension was detrimental to the research. If relations with the
householder are damaged, this can make it difficult to describe these methods in more detail]. All methods Examples: acquire knowledge and information from them, due to a and investigations then built upon these initial CALEBRE: Interactive lack of trust and engagement in the research. This is relational ties. timeline activity used to why it is so important to ensure care and time is taken gather information and build to establish a relationship with the householder early, In the DEFACTO project, much of the initial interaction relationship with from recruitment onwards. Likewise, if relations with with householders was conducted from a distance, due householders  the technology developer are damaged, then this may to the nature of the recruitment process. This provides prevent them receiving appropriate information, or not additional complexity to building a relationship with the appreciating the value of the information being householder. Project branding was developed so that all provided, meaning they are not able to include the user literature and communication from the project team research within their product development. was recognisable and consistent (see Figure 3). This was intended to provide a professional appearance, to Whilst every effort may be made to build these help increase the level of trust participants placed in relational foundations early on in the research process, the project. Information sheets were provided to all the collaborative nature of cross-disciplinary research interested participants which included photographs and means that there are likely to be tensions along the names of the research team. This was intended to Figure 2: CALEBRE timeline way. Those from different disciplines may be compared prompt some level of familiarity from the outset, in exercise ©Loughborough to those of diverse nationalities with different order to reduce some of the barriers which may be University languages and cultures, which can understandably lead experienced when communicating with a stranger. In DEFACTO: Project branding to misinterpretation and confusion. Coupled with the addition, one member of the research team held the ensured a professional multi-cultural nature of research teams, it is clear to ‘cohort interaction’ role and managed communication approach and uniformed see how simple relational breakdowns can occur. with householders, and therefore most of the contact contact came directly from them or had been approved by In practice: In the CALEBRE project, this relational them. Part of this role was also as a ‘gate keeper’ to foundation was built with the technology developers the householders, protecting them from unnecessary through regular meetings and a series of more formal hassle and contact. Although necessary for the interviews, exploring the development of their participants, this role has the potential to cause tension technologies, the problems they were trying to resolve within a project team, particularly where requests to and the information they needed from end users. With contact the householder are overruled. the householders, relational foundations were established through activities at the beginning of the All emails were sent from a project email address (to data collection process, planned to help put the ensure continuity) but were signed from the cohort Figure 3: DEFACTO project householder at ease and build a trusting relationship. interaction researcher, to give the feel of personal branding ©Loughborough These included discussing how long they had lived in contact and continuity. Any interviews with University their home and what work they had done to improve it, householders were then attended by this researcher using a magnetic timeline tool, see Figure 2 [7, 14 & 15 (and a chaperone) which meant that the householders
had already experienced a level of contact and In the DEFACTO project, engineers required particular relationship which could then be built upon during the information from the householders in relation to their interview. house structure, heating system and energy use. Whilst some of this information was collected from the Stage two: The UCD expert specialises householders themselves, there were certain issues Following the establishment of relational foundations encountered when they did not have or know the with the technology developer and the householder, the particular information required. This raises the issue of UCD expert is then able to provide specific user relying on householders for more technical information information. The engineer or technology developer is and presumes a certain level of knowledge that may be likely to have very specific questions which need missing. Part of this specialising stage is ensuring that answering, whether that be in relation to users’ the technology developer or engineer understands the preferences and habits or specific data and monitoring nature and format of the information they will receive of appliances and energy usage. Due to the difficulties and, importantly, the practical challenges associated of cross-disciplinary working discussed previously and a with research in homes, which may mean they will not difference in the skill sets of experts, a specialist is necessarily receive full sets of the desired information. needed to effectively extract and obtain this information from users. This first requires the relational Stage three: The UCD expert builds building with the engineer, in order to understand what knowledge they need from the process and why. This requires As discussed, not only does the UCD expert collect ‘immersion’ so that there is a level of understanding by information for the technology developer and aid the UCD expert and often ‘translation’ to understand collaboration between the disciplines, they also build how the needs of the technology developer can be knowledge relating to users and the process of transformed into a methodological approach that investigating their needs in order to advance their own gathers the appropriate information. field. In practice: In the CALEBRE project, this included When conducting this kind of socio-technical, activities such as householder interviews, carried out collaborative research, it would be easy for the UCD within the home, which investigated particular aspects expert to merely collect the necessary information in of habitual practices relating specifically to technology their role as the specialist; however, in order to ensure design and a study into domestic hot water use, which their knowledge base is extended, they must use the provided specific information on the householders’ opportunity to gather specific information about users practices and needs. This information was gathered and the effectiveness of research approaches in this with a range of tools , all of which were enabled context. If not, it is likely that the UCD expert becomes through the prior relationship established with the a vehicle by which others conduct their research, householder. limiting their own potential. However, much of this responsibility lies with the UCD expert to include the
Examples: data they wish to collect. The addition of this kind of Therefore, the questions need to be translated into an data collection conducted by researchers with user appropriate and engaging methodology. CALEBRE: Technology centred skills also means that the process can be made information sheets to more interactive and engaging for householders, which In practice: In the CALEBRE project, information translate technical is important for retaining participants, particularly over relating to specific new energy-efficient technologies information for householders a long study period. was translated into a form which was understandable by householders, though the use of simple information In practice: In the CALEBRE project, this knowledge sheets and accompanying explanation (see Figure 4). was predominantly built through the development of This enabled people to comment on the technologies, innovative methods as part of the householder even though they had no prior knowledge of them. The interviews and the investigation into cross-disciplinary information gathered was then translated into a format working. The DEFACTO project also utilised householder which would be of more use to the technology interviews to gather this information, enabling the developers, by analysing and collating qualitative continued building of relations with householders and responses and translating some of this information into understanding of their routines, activities and requirement trees and specifications. behaviours in the home. This stage enforces the need Figure 4: CALEBRE technology to value one another’s area of work. It is most effective In the DEFACTO project, householders were asked to information sheets when all partners in the project appreciate that their describe how they used their heating system, through ©Loughborough University information is not all that needs to be collected from the use of scenarios, supported by a physical DEFACTO: Uncovering the the householders, so that a holistic understanding of demonstration of the actions in their home. They were householders understanding the system can be formed. also asked to explain how they thought their heating of their heating system system worked, using magnetic icons to represent the Stage four: The UCD expert translates component parts of the system and a white board on The final stage in the process of bridge building is which the researcher could annotate and translate their translation. This is seen both in the translation of user comments (see Figure 5). This information was then information into a suitable form for the technology translated again into a form that could be recognised developers and in the translation of technological and used by the other researchers on the project. products and concepts into a form which the user can understand and respond to. Much of the work carried Principles of cross-disciplinary working out when conducting cross-disciplinary work requires Whilst this bridge building framework depicts the stages some form of translation. necessary for socio-technical collaboration, it is Figure 5: Example of interactive recognised that particular skills, attitudes or activities activity to uncover householders understanding of their heating Whilst technology developers may have very specific are necessary within those stages in order for them to system ©Loughborough information that they wish to collect, asking questions be successful. Therefore, through experience of the University out of context or with complex terminology may make CALEBRE project and interviews with various academics it difficult for householders to provide answers. involved in socio-technical cross-disciplinary research, a
set of principles to be considered during cross- understand. This should not include discipline-specific disciplinary working were developed, evaluated and vocabulary and where relevant, acronyms should be refined. The principles were intended to aid those expanded and explained. Where possible, time should conducting this bridging role when working in a cross- be taken to understand the preferred methods of disciplinary context, particularly with technology communication used by others. developers, but are applicable for use by any member of a cross-disciplinary project team. Whilst they should Rapport: It is necessary to establish a good rapport be of particular use within the relationship building through regular contact with the people you are stage, they can also be applied through all stages of a working with across disciplines. Frequent face-to-face research project. These six principles are: contact is ideal where possible and time should be devoted to building relationships through contact in the Value: It is important to both respect and value those early stages of the project. This may be through project working within other disciplines. This includes both the meetings, informal discussions, email exchanges or by individual, their work and their opinions. Their input other means. should be valued and trusted and you should be open to having your own ideas challenged. This in turn will Iterate: Both the working relationship and the help to facilitate good working relationships. research carried out should be developed in an iterative nature. The product, project, system etc. should be Immerse: In order to communicate successfully with developed through teamwork and regular contact, someone from another discipline, it is important to returning to previous stages to evaluate and expand. spend time immersing yourself in their work and the wider context. Whether this be a particular product or Conclusion an area of expertise, having a basic level of This paper has highlighted the ways that blurred lines understanding will enable successful personal both between disciplines and between experts and interaction. users can be bridged through four distinct stages: relating, specialising, building knowledge and Communicate: Findings and data should be translating. This highlights the importance of strong communicated clearly, in a format that is easy to relational foundations and how these should form the understand and requires little explanation. Care should basis of cross-disciplinary work. The set of six principles be taken to present results in an appropriate format for to aid cross-disciplinary working, particularly in the the audience. Communication of findings should occur relationship building stages, further expand on how throughout the process, not merely at the end. researchers from different disciplines can work together to improve the quality of the cross-disciplinary Translate: In order to encourage understanding research, essential in domestic energy demand between disciplines, it is important to translate reduction. information into a format that others can easily
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